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6035 


1920 


Ransome 
Soldier  and  Death 


THE  LIBRARY 

OF 

THE  UNIVERSITY 
OF  CALIFORNIA 

LOS  ANGELES 


THE 
SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

A  RUSSIAN  FOLK  TALE 
TOLD   IN   ENGLISH    BY 

ARTHUR  RANSOME 


THE 
SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

A  RUSSIAN  FOLK  TALE 
TOLD  IN  ENGLISH  BY 
ARTHUR  RANSOME 


January  1920 


THE   SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

A  SOLDIER  served  God  and  the  Great 
Tzar  for  twenty-five  years,  earned  three 
dry  biscuits,  and  set  off  to  walk  his  way 
home.  He  kissed  his  companions  with  whom 
he  had  served  so  long,  and  boasted  of  the 
feasting  there  would  be  in  the  village  when 
he  should  come  marching  home  with  all  his 
wars  behind  him.  Singing  at  the  top  of  his 
voice  he  was  as  he  set  off.  But  as  soon  as  he  was 
alone  on  the  high  road,  walking  through  the 
forest  he  began  to  think  things  over.  And  he 
thought  to  himself :  All  these  years  I  have 
served  the  Tzar  and  had  good  clothes  to  my 
back  and  my  belly  full  of  victuals.  And  now  I 
am  like  to  be  both  hungry  and  cold.  Already 
I've  nothing  but  three  dry  biscuits. 

Just  then  he  met  an  old  beggar,  who  stood 
in  the  road  and  crossed  himself  and  asked  alms 
for  the  love  of  God. 

The  soldier  had  not  a  copper  piece  in  the 
world,  so  he  gave  the  beggar  one  of  his  three 
dry  biscuits. 

He  had  not  gone  very  far  along  the  road 
when  he  met  a  second  beggar,  who  leant  on  a 
stick  and  recited  holy  words  and  begged  alms 
for  the  love  or  God . 

The  soldier  gave  him  the  second  of  his  three 
dry  biscuits. 

And  then,  at  a  bend  in  the  road,  he  met  a 
third  old  beggar,  with  long  white  hair  and 
beard  and  loathsome  rags,  who  stood  shaking 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

by  the  roadside,  and  he  begged  alms  for  the 
love  of  God. 

"  If  I  give  him  my  last  dry  biscuit  I  shall 
have  nothing  left  for  myself,"  thought  the 
soldier.  He  gave  the  old  beggar  half  of  the 
third  dry  biscuit.  Then  the  thought  came  into 
his  head  that  perhaps  this  old  beggar  would 
meet  the  other  two,  and  would  learn  that  they 
had  been  given  whole  biscuits  while  he  had 
only  been  given  a  half.  "  He  will  be  hurt  and 
affronted,"  thought  the  soldier, "  and  his  bless- 
ing will  be  of  no  avail."  So  he  gave  the  old 
beggar  the  other  half  also  of  the  third  of  his 
three  dry  biscuits.  "  I  shall  get  along  some- 
how," thought  the  soldier,  and  was  for  making 
forward  on  his  way.  But  the  old  beggar  put  out 
his  hand  and  stopped  him. 

"  Brother,"  says  the  old  beggar,  "  are  you 
in  want  of  anything  ?  " 

"  God  bless  you,"  says  the  soldier,  looking 
at  the  beggar's  rags,  "  I  want  nothing  from 
you.  You're  a  poor  man  yourself." 

"  Never  mind  my  poverty,"  says  the  old 
beggar.  "  Just  tell  me  what  you  would  like  to 
have,  and  I  am  well  able  to  reward  you  for  your 
kind  heart." 

"  I  don't  want  anything,"  said  the  soldier  ; 
"  but,  if  you  do  happen  to  have  such  a  thing  as 
a  pack  of  cards  about  you,  I'd  keep  them  in 
memory  of  you,  and  they'd  be  a  pleasure  to 
me  on  the  long  road." 

The  old  beggar  thrust  his  hand  into  his 
bosom  among  his  rags,  and  pulled  out  a  pack 
of  cards. 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

"  Take  these,"  says  he,  "  and  when  you 
play  with  them  you'll  always  be  winner  who- 
ever may  be  playing  against  you.  And  here's  a 
flour  sack  for  you  as  well.  If  you  meet  anything 
and  want  to  catch  it,  just  open  the  sack  and  tell 
beasts  or  birds  or  aught  else  to  get  into  it,  and 
they'll  do  just  that,  and  you  can  close  the  sack 
and  do  with  them  what  you  will." 

"  Thank  you  kindly,  "says  the  soldier,  throws 
the  sack  over  his  shoulder,  puts  the  pack  of 
cards  in  his  pocket,  and  trudges  off  along  the 
high  road  singing  an  old  song. 

He  went  on  and  on  till  he  came  to  a  lake, 
where  he  drank  a  little  water  to  ease  his  thirst, 
and  smoked  a  pipe  to  put  off  his  hunger,  rest- 
ing by  the  shore  of  the  lake.  And  there  on  the 
lake  he  saw  three  wild  geese  swimming  far 
away.  "  Now  if  I  could  catch  them  !  "  thought 
the  soldier,  and  remembered  the  sack  the  old 
beggar  had  given  him.  He  opened  the  sack  and 
shouted  at  the  top  of  his  voice :  "  Hi  ! 
You  there,  you  wild  geese,  come  into  my 
sack  !" 

And  the  three  wild  geese  splashed  up  out  of 
the  water,  and  flew  to  the  bank  and  crowded 
into  the  sack  one  after  the  other. 

The  soldier  tied  up  the  mouth  of  the  sack, 
flung  it  over  his  shoulder  and  went  on  his  way. 

He  came  to  a  town,  and  looked  for  a  tavern, 
and  chose  the  best  he  could  see,  and  went  in 
there  and  asked  for  the  landlord. 

"  See  here,"  says  he,  "  here  are  three  wild 
geese.  I  want  one  of  them  roasted  for  my  din- 
ner. Another  I'll  give  you  in  exchange  for  a 


THE  SOLDIER  AND   DEATH 

bottle  of  vodka.  The  third  you  shall  have  to 
pay  you  for  your  trouble." 

The  landlord  agreed,  as  well  he  might,  and 
presently  the  soldier  was  seated  at  a  good  table 
near  a  window,  with  a  whole  bottle  of  the  best 
vokda,  and  a  fine  roast  goose  fresh  from  the 
kitchen. 

When  he  had  made  an  end  of  the  goose,  the 
soldier  laid  down  his  knife  and  fork,  tipped  the 
last  drops  of  the  vodka  down  his  throat,  and 
set  the  bottle  upside  down  upon  the  table. 
Then  he  lit  his  little  pipe,  sat  back  on  the  bench 
and  took  a  look  out  of  the  window  to  see  what 
was  doing  in  the  town. 

And  there  on  the  other  side  of  the  road  was 
a  fine  palace  ,  well  carved  and  painted.  A  year's 
work  had  gone  to  the  carving  of  every  doorpost 
and  window-frame.  But  in  all  the  palace  there 
was  not  one  whole  pane  of  glass. 

"  Landlord,"  says  the  soldier,  "  tell  me 
what's  the  meaning  of  this  ?  Why  is  a  fine 
palace  like  that  standing  empty  with  broken 
windows  ?  " 

"  It's  a  good  enough  palace,"  says  the  land- 
lord. "  The  Tzar  built  the  palace  for  him- 
self, but  there's  no  living  in  it  because  of  the 
devils." 

"  Devils  ?  "  says  the  soldier. 

"  Devils,"  says  the  landlord.  "  Every  night 
they  crowd  into  the  palace,  and,  what  with 
their  shouting  and  yelling  and  screaming  and 
playing  cards,  and  all  the  other  devilries  that 
come  into  their  heads,  there's  no  living  in  the 
palace  for  decent  folk." 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

"  And  does  nobody  clear  them  out  ?  "  asks 
the  soldier. 

"  Easier  said  than  done,"  says  the  landlord. 

Well,  with  that  the  soldier  wishes  good 
health  to  the  landlord,  and  sets  off  to  see  the 
Tzar.  He  comes  walking  into  the  Tzar's  house 
and  gives  him  a  salute. 

"  Your  Majesty,"  says  he,  "  will  you  give 
me  leave  to  spend  one  night  in  your  empty 
palace  ?  " 

"  God  bless  you,"  says  the  Tzar,  "  but  you 
don't  know  what  you  are  asking.  Foolhardy 
folk  enough  have  tried  to  spend  a  night  in  that 
palace.  They  went  in  merry  and  boasting,  but 
not  one  of  them  came  walking  out  alive  in  the 
morning." 

"  What  of  that  ?  "  says  the  soldier.  "  Water 
won't  drown  a  Russian  soldier,  and  fire  won't 
burn  him.  I  have  served  God  and  the  Tzar  for 
twenty- five  years  and  am  not  dead.  A  single 
night  in  that  palace  won't  be  end  of  me." 

"  But  I  tell  you  :  a  man  walks  in  there  alive 
in  the  evening,  and  in  the  morning  the  servants 
have  to  search  the  floor  for  the  little  bits  of  his 
bones." 

"  None  the  less,"  says  the  soldier,  "  if  your 
majesty  will  give  me  leave.  ..." 

"  Get  along  with  you  and  God  be  with  you," 
says  the  Tzar. "  Spend  the  night  there  if  you've 
set  your  heart  on  it." 

So  the  soldier  came  to  the  palace  and  stepped 
in,  singing  through  the  empty  rooms.  He  made 
himself  comfortable  in  the  biggest  room  of  all,, 
laid  his  knapsack  in  a  corner  and  hung  his. 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

sword  on  a  nail,  sat  down  at  the  table,  took 
out  his  bag  of  tobacco,  filled  his  little  pipe, 
and  sat  there  smoking,  ready  for  what  might 
come. 

Twelve  o'clock  sharp  and  there  was  a  yell- 
ing, a  shouting,  a  blowing  of  horns,  a  scraping 
of  fiddles  and  every  other  kind  of  instrument, 
a  noise  of  dancing,  of  running,  of  stamping, 
and  the  palace  cram  full  of  devils  making  them- 
selves at  home  as  if  the  place  belonged  to 
them. 

"  And  you,  soldier  ?  "  cried  the  devils. 
"  What  are  you  sitting  there  so  glum  for, 
smoking  your  pipe  ?  There's  smoke  enough 
where  we  have  been.  Put  your  pipe  in  your 
pocket  and  play  a  round  of  cards  with  us." 

"  Right  you  are,"  says  the  soldier,  "  if  you'll 
play  with  my  cards." 

"  Deal  them  out,"  shouted  the  devils,  and 
the  soldier  put  his  pipe  in  his  pocket  and  dealt 
out  the  cards,  while  the  devils  crowded  round 
the  table  fighting  for  room  on  the  benches. 

They  played  a  game  and  the  soldier  won. 
They  played  another  and  he  won  again.  The 
devils  were  cunning  enough,  God  knows,  but 
not  all  their  cunning  could  win  a  single  game 
for  them.  The  soldier  was  raking  in  the  money 
all  the  time.  Soon  enough  the  devils  had  not  a 
penny  piece  between  them,  and  the  soldier 
was  for  putting  up  his  cards  and  lighting  his 
pipe.  Content  he  was,  and  well  he  might  be, 
with  his  pockets  bulging  with  money. 

"  Stop  a  minute,  soldier,"  said  the  devils, 
*  we've  still  got  sixty  bushels  of  silver  and  forty 

8 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

of  gold.  We'll  play  for  them  if  you'll  give  us 
time  to  send  for  them." 

"  Lets  see  the  silver,"  says  the  soldier,  and 
puts  the  cards  in  his  pocket. 

Well,  they  sent  a  little  devil  to  fetch  the  silver. 
Sixty  times  he  ran  out  of  the  room  and  sixty 
times  he  came  staggering  back  with  a  bushel  of 
silver  on  his  shoulders. 

The  soldier  pulled  out  his  cards,  and  they 
played  on,  but  it  was  all  the  same.  The  devils 
cheated  in  every  kind  of  way,  but  could  not 
win  a  game. 

"  Go  and  fetch  the  gold,"  says  the  oldest 
devil. 

"  Aye,  aye,  grandfather,"  says  the  little 
devil,  and  goes  scuttling  out  of  the  room.  Forty 
times  he  ran  out,  and  forty  times  he  came 
staggering  back  with  a  bushel  of  gold  between 
his  shoulders. 

They  played  on.  The  soldier  won  every 
game  and  all  the  gold,  asked  if  they  had  any 
more  money  to  lose,  put  his  cards  in  his  pocket 
and  lit  his  pipe. 

The  devils  looked  at  all  the  money  they  had 
lost.  It  seemed  a  pity  to  lose  all  that  good  silver 
and  gold. 

"  Tear  him  to  pieces,  brothers,"  they  cried, 
"  tear  him  to  pieces,  eat  him  and  have  done  !" 

The  soldier  tapped  his  little  pipe  on  the  table. 

"  First  make  sure,"  says  he,  "  who  eats 
whom."  And  with  that  he  whips  out  his  sack, 
and,  says  he,  to  the  devils,  who  were  all  gnash- 
ing their  teeth  and  making  ready  to  fall  on  him, 
"  what  do  you  call  this  ?  " 

9 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

"  It's  a  sack,"  said  the  devils. 

"Is  it  ?  "  says  the  soldier.  "  Then,  by  the 
word  of  God,  get  into  it !  " 

And  the  next  minute  all  those  devils  were 
tumbling  over  each  other  and  getting  into  the 
sack,  squeezing  in  one  on  the  top  of  another 
until  the  last  one  had  got  inside.  Then  the 
soldier  tied  up  the  sack  with  a  good  double 
knot,  hung  it  on  a  nail,  and  lay  down  to  sleep. 

In  the  morning  the  Tzar  sent  his  servants. 

"  Go,"  says  the  Tzar,  "  and  see  what  has 
happened  to  the  soldier  who  spent  the  night 
in  the  empty  palace.  If  the  unclean  spirits  have 
made  an  end  of  him,  then  you  must  sweep  up 
his  bones  and  make  all  clean." 

The  servants  came,  all  ready  to  lament  for 
the  brave  soldier  done  to  death  by  the  unclean, 
and  there  was  the  soldier  walking  cheerfully 
from  one  room  to  another,  smoking  his  little 
pipe. 

"  Well  done,  soldier  !  We  never  thought  to 
see  you  alive.  And  how  did  you  spend  the 
night  ?  How  did  you  manage  against  the 
devils  ?  " 

"  Devils  ?  "  says  the  soldier.  "  I  wish  all 
men  I  have  played  cards  against  had  paid  their 
debts  so  honestly.  Have  a  look  at  the  silver  and 
gold  I  won  from  them.  Look  at  the  heaps  of 
money  lying  on  the  floor." 

The  servants  looked  at  the  silver  and  gold 
and  touched  it  to  see  if  it  was  real.  But  there 
was  no  doubt  about  that.  I  wish  I  had  more  in 
my  pocket  of  the  same  sort. 

"  Now,    brothers,"    said    the    soldier,    "  off 

10 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

with  you  as  quick  as  you  can,  go  and  fetch  two 
blacksmiths  here  on  the  run.  And  let  them 
bring  with  them  an  iron  anvil  and  the  two 
heaviest  hammers  in  the  forge." 

The  servants  asked  no  questions,  but  hurried 
to  the  smithy,  and  the  two  blacksmiths  came 
running,  with  anvil  and  hammers.  Giants  they 
were,  the  strongest  men  in  all  the  town. 

"  Now,"  says  the  soldier,  "  take  that  sack 
from  the  nail  and  lay  it  on  the  anvil  and  let 
me  see  how  the  blacksmiths  of  this  town  can 
set  about  their  work. 

The  blacksmiths  took  the  sack  from  the  nail. 

"  Devil  take  it,  what  a  weight,"  they  said  to 
each  other. 

And  little  voices  screamed  out  of  the  sack  : 
"  We  are  good  folk.  We  are  your  own  people." 

"  Are  you  ?  "  said  the  blacksmiths  ;  and 
they  laid  the  sack  on  the  anvil  and  swung  the 
great  hammers,  up  and  down,  up  and  down, 
as  if  they  were  beating  out  a  lump  of  iron. 

The  devils  fared  badly  in  there,  and  worse 
and  worse.  The  hammers  came  down  as  if  they 
were  going  through  devils,  anvil,  earth,  and 
all.  It  was  more  than  even  devils  could  bear. 

"  Have  mercy  !  "  they  screamed.  "  Have 
mercy,  soldier  !  Let  us  out  again  into  the  world, 
and  we'll  never  forget  you  world  without  end. 
And  as  for  this  palace.  .  .  .  No  devil  shall 
put  the  nail  of  the  toe  of  his  foot  in  it.  We'll 
tell  them  all.  Not  one  shall  come  within  a  hun- 
dred miles." 

The  soldier  let  the  blacksmiths  give  a  few 
more  blows,  just  for  luck.  Then  he  stopped 

ii 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

them,  and  untied  the  mouth  of  the  sack.  The 
moment  he  opened  it,  the  devils  shot  out,  and 
fled  away  to  hell  without  looking  right  or  left 
in  their  hurry. 

But  the  soldier  was  no  fool,  and  he  grabbed 
one  old  devil  by  the  leg.  And  the  devil  hung 
gibbering,  trying  to  get  away.  The  soldier  cut 
the  devil's  hairy  wrist  to  the  bone,  so  that  the 
blood  flowed,  took  a  pen,  dipped  it  in  the 
blood,  and  gave  it  to  the  devil.  But  he  never 
let  go  of  his  leg. 

"  Write,"  says  he,  "  that  you  will  be  my 
faithful  servant." 

The  old  devil  screamed  and  wriggled,  but 
the  soldier  gripped  him  tight.  There  was  noth- 
ing to  be  done.  He  wrote  and  signed  in  his  own 
blood  a  promise  to  serve  the  soldier  faithfully 
wherever  and  whenever  there  should  be  need. 
Then  the  soldier  let  him  go,  and  he  went  hop- 
ping and  screaming  after  the  others,  and  had 
disappeared  in  a  moment. 

And  so  the  devils  went  rushing  down  to 
hell,  aching  in  every  bone  of  their  hairy  bodies. 
And  they  called  all  the  other  unclean  spirits, 
old  and  young,  big  and  little,  and  told  what 
had  happened  to  them.  And  they  set  sentinels 
all  round  hell,  and  guards  at  every  gate,  and 
ordered  them  to  watch  well,  and,  whatever 
they  did,  not  on  any  account  to  let  in  the 
soldier  with  the  flour  sack. 

The  soldier  went  to  the  Tzar  and  told  him 
how  he  had  dealt  with  the  devils,  and  how 
henceforth  no  devil  would  set  foot  within  a 
hundred  miles  of  the  palace. 

12 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

"  If  that's  so,"  says  the  Tzar,  "  we'll  move 
at  once,  and  go  and  live  there,  and  you  shall 
live  with  me  and  be  honoured  as  my  own 
brother."  And  with  that  there  was  a  great  to  do 
shifting  the  bedding  and  tables  and  benches 
and  all  else  from  the  old  palace  to  the  new, 
and  the  soldier  set  up  house  with  the  Tzar, 
living  with  him  as  his  own  brother,  and  wear- 
ing fine  clothes  with  gold  embroidery,  and 
eating  the  same  food  as  the  Tzar,  and  as  much 
of  it  as  he  liked.  Money  to  spend  he  had,  for 
he  had  won  from  the  devils  enough  to  last 
even  a  spending  man  a  thousand  years.  And 
he  had  nothing  to  spend  it  on.  Hens  don't  eat 
gold.  No  more  do  mice.  And  there  the  money 
lay  in  a  corner  till  the  soldier  was  tired  of  look- 
ing at  it. 

So  the  soldier  thought  he  would  marry.  And 
he  took  a  wife,  and  in  a  year's  time  God  gave 
him  a  son,  and  he  had  nothing  more  to  wish 
for  except  to  see  the  son  grow  up  and  turn  into 
a  general. 

But  it  so  happened  that  the  little  boy  fell  ill, 
and  what  was  the  matter  with  him  no  one  knew. 
He  grew  worse  and  worse  from  day  to  day, 
and  the  Tzar  sent  for  every  doctor  in  the  coun- 
try, but  not  one  of  them  did  him  a  half- penny- 
worth of  good.  The  doctors  grew  richer  and 
the  boy  grew  no  better  but  worse,  as  is  often 
the  way. 

The  soldier  had  almost  given  up  hope  of 
saving  his  son  when  he  remembered  the  old 
devil  who  had  signed  a  promise  written  in  his 
own  blood  to  serve  the  soldier  faithfully  wher- 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

ever  and  whenever  there  should  be  need.  He 
remembered  this,  and  said  to  himself:  "  Where 
the  devil  has  my  old  devil  hidden  himself  all 
this  time  ?  " 

And  he  had  scarcely  said  this  when  sud- 
denly there  was  the  little  old  devil  standing  in 
front  of  him,  dressed  like  a  peasant  in  a  little 
shirt  and  breeches,  trembling  with  fright  and 
asking  :  "  How  can  I  serve  your  Excellency  ?" 

"  See  here,"  says  the  soldier.  "  My  son  is 
ill.  Do  you  happen  to  know  how  to  cure  him?" 

The  little  old  devil  took  a  glass  from  his 
pocket  and  filled  it  with  cold  water  and  set  it 
on  the  sick  child's  forehead. 

"  Come  here,  your  Excellency,"  says  he, 
"  and  look  into  the  glass  of  water." 

The  soldier  came  and  looked  in  the  glass. 

"  And  what  does  your  Excellency  see  ?  " 
asked  the  little  old  devil,  who  was  so  much 
afraid  of  the  soldier  that  he  trembled  and 
could  hardly  speak. 

"  I  see  Death,  like  a  little  old  woman,  stand- 
ing at  my  son's  feet." 

"  Be  easy,"  says  the  little  old  devil,  "  for  if 
Death  is  standing  at  your  son's  feet  he  will  be 
well  again.  But  if  Death  were  standing  at  his 
head  then  nothing  could  save  him." 

And  with  that  the  little  old  devil  lifted  the 
glass  and  splashed  the  cold  water  over  the  sick 
child,  and  the  next  minute  there  was  the  little 
boy  crawling  about  and  laughing  and  crowing 
as  if  he  had  never  been  sick  in  his  life. 

"  Give  me  that  glass,"  says  the  soldier, 
"  and  we'll  cry  quits." 

H 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

The  little  old  devil  gave  him  the  glass.  And 
the  soldier  gave  back  the  promise  which  the 
devil  had  signed  in  his  own  blood.  As  soon  as 
the  little  old  devil  had  that  promise  in  his  hand 
he  gave  one  look  at  the  soldier  and  fled  away 
as  if  the  blacksmiths  had  only  that  minute 
stopped  beating  him  on  the  anvil. 

And  the  soldier  after  that  set  up  as  a  wise 
man  and  put  all  the  doctors  out  of  business, 
curing  the  boyars  and  generals.  He  would  just 
look  in  his  glass,  and  if  Death  stood  at  a  sick 
man's  feet,  he  threw  the  water  over  him  and 
cured  him.  If  Death  stood  at  the  sick  man's 
head,  he  said  :  "  It's  all  up  with  you,"  and  the 
sick  man  died  as  sure  as  fate. 

All  went  well  until  the  Tzar  himself  fell  ill 
and  sent  for  the  soldier  to  cure  him. 

The  soldier  went  in,  and  the  Tzar  greeted 
him  as  his  own  brother,  and  prayed  him  to  be 
quick,  as  he  felt  the  sickness  growing  upon 
him  as  he  lay.  The  soldier  poured  cold  water 
in  the  glass,  and  set  it  on  the  Tzar's  forehead, 
and  looked  and  looked  again,  and  saw  Death 
standing  at  the  Tzar's  head. 

"  O  Tzar,"  says  the  soldier,  "  it's  all  up  with 
you.  Death  is  waiting  by  your  head,  and  you 
have  but  a  few  minutes  left  to  live." 

"  What  ?  "  cries  the  Tzar,  "  you  cure  my 
boyars  and  generals  and  you  will  not  cure  me 
who  am  Tzar,  and  have  treated  you  as  my  own 
born  brother.  If  I've  only  a  few  minutes  to  live 
I've  time  enough  to  give  orders  for  you  to  be 
beheaded." 

The  soldier  thought  and   thought,   and   he 

15 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

begged  Death  :  "  O  Death,"  says  he,  "  give 
my  life  to  the  Tzar  and  kill  me  instead.  Better 
to  die  so  than  to  end  by  being  shamefully  be- 
headed !  " 

He  looked  once  more  in  the  glass,  and  saw 
that  the  little  old  woman  Death  had  shifted 
from  the  Tzar's  head  and  was  now  standing  at 
his  feet.  He  picked  up  the  glass  and  splashed 
the  water  over  the  Tzar,  and  there  was  the 
Tzar  as  well  and  healthy  as  ever  he  had  been. 

"  You  are  my  own  true  brother  after  all," 
says  the  Tzar.  "  Let  us  go  and  feast  to- 
gether." 

But  the  soldier  shook  in  all  his  limbs  and 
could  hardly  stand,  and  he  knew  that  his  time 
was  come.  He  prayed  Death  :  "  O  Death,  give 
me  just  one  hour  to  say  good-bye  to  my  wife 
and  my  little  son." 

"  Hurry  up  !  "  says  Death. 

And  the  soldier  hurried  to  his  room  in  the 
palace,  said  good-bye  to  his  wife,  told  his  son 
to  grow  up  and  be  a  general,  lay  down  on  his 
bed  and  grew  iller  every  minute. 

He  looked,  and  there  was  Death,  a  little  old 
woman,  standing  by  his  bedside. 

"  Well,  soldier,"  says  Death,  "  you  have 
only  two  minutes  left  to  live  !  " 

The  soldier  groaned,  and,  turning  in  bed, 
pulled  the  flour  sack  from  under  his  pillow 
and  opened  it. 

"Do  you  know  what  this  is  ? "  says  he  to  Death . 

"  A  sack,"  says  Death. 

"  Well,  if  it  is  a  sack,  get  into  it !  "  says  the 
soldier. 

16 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

Death  was  into  the  sack  in  a  moment,  and 
the  soldier  leapt  from  his  bed  well  and  strong, 
tied  up  the  sack  with  two  double  knots,  flung 
it  over  his  shoulder  and  set  out  for  the  deep 
forest  of  Brian,  which  is  the  thickest  in  all  the 
world .  He  came  to  the  forest  and  made  his  way 
into  the  middle  of  it,  hung  the  sack  from  the 
topmost  branches  of  a  high  poplar  tree,  left  it 
there  and  came  home  singing  songs  at  the  top 
of  his  voice  and  full  of  all  kinds  of  merriment. 

From  that  time  on  there  was  no  dying  in  the 
world .  There  were  births  every  day,  and  plenty 
of  them,  but  nobody  died.  It  was  a  poor  time 
for  doctors.  And  so  it  was  for  many  years. 
Death  had  come  to  an  end,  and  it  was  as  if  all 
men  would  live  for  ever.  And  all  the  time  the 
little  old  woman,  Death,  tied  up  in  a  sack, 
unable  to  get  about  her  business,  was  hanging 
from  the  top  of  a  tall  poplar  tree  away  in  Brian 
forest. 

And  then,  one  day,  the  soldier  was  walking 
out  to  take  the  air,  and  he  met  an  ancient  old 
crone,  so  old  and  so  ancient  that  she  was  like 
to  fall  whichever  way  the  wind  blew.  She  tot- 
tered along,  blown  this  way  and  that,  like  a 
blade  of  withered  grass. 

"  What  an  old  hag,"  said  the  soldier  to  him- 
self. "  It  was  time  for  her  to  die  a  many  years 
ago." 

;<  Yes,"  says  the  old  crone,  with  her  tooth- 
less gums  numbling  and  grumbling  over  her 
words.  "  Long  ago  it  was  time  for  me  to  die. 
When  you  shut  up  Death  in  the  sack  I  had 
only  an  hour  left  to  live.  I  had  done  with  the 

17 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

world,  and  the  world  had  done  with  me,  and 
I  would  have  been  glad  to  be  at  peace.  Long 
ago  my  place  in  heaven  was  made  ready,  and  it 
is  empty  to  this  day  for  I  cannot  die.  You, 
soldier,  have  sinned  before  God  and  before 
man.  You  have  sinned  a  sin  that  God  will  not 
forgive.  I  am  not  the  only  soul  in  the  world  who 
is  tortured  as  I  am.  Mine  is  not  the  only  place 
that  is  growing  dusty  in  heaven.  Hundreds  and 
thousands  of  us  who  should  have  died  drag  on 
in  misery  about  the  world.  And  but  for  you  we 
should  now  be  resting  in  peace." 

The  soldier  began  to  think.  And  he  thought 
of  all  the  other  old  men  and  women  he  had 
kept  from  the  rest  that  God  had  made  ready 
for  them.  "  There  is  no  doubt  about  it,"  thinks 
he  ;  "I  had  better  let  Death  loose  again.  No 
matter  if  I  am  the  first  of  whom  she  makes  an 
end.  I  have  sinned  many  sins,  not  counting 
this  one.  Better  go  to  the  other  world  now  and 
bear  my  punishment  while  I  am  -strong,  for 
when  I  am  very  old  it  will  come  worse  to  me  to 
be  tortured." 

So  he  set  off  to  the  forest  of  Brian,  which  is 
the  thickest  in  all  the  world.  He  found  the 
poplar  tree,  and  saw  the  sack  hanging  from  the 
topmost  branches,  swinging  this  way  and  that 
as  wind  blew. 

"  Well,  Death,  are  you  alive  up  there  ?  " 
the  soldier  shouted  against  the  wind. 

And  a  little  voice,  hardly  to  be  heard,  an- 
swered from  the  sack  :  "  Alive,  little  father  !  " 

So  the  soldier  climbed  up  the  tree,  took 
down  the  sack,  and  carried  it  home  over  his 

18 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

shoulder.  He  said  good-bye  to  his  wife  and  his 
son,  who  was  now  a  fine  young  lad.  Then  he 
went  into  his  own  room,  opened  the  bag,  lay 
down  upon  the  bed,  and  begged  Death  to  make 
an  end  of  him. 

And  Death,  in  the  form  of  a  little  old  woman, 
crept  trembling  out  of  the  sack,  looking  this 
way  and  that,  for  she  was  very  much  afraid. 
As  soon  as  she  saw  the  soldier  she  bolted 
through  the  door,  and  ran  away  as  fast  as  her 
little  old  legs  could  carry  her.  "  The  devils 
can  make  an  end  of  you  if  they  like/'  she 
shrieked,  "  but  you  don't  catch  me  taking  a 
hand  in  it." 

The  soldier  sat  up  on  the  bed  and  knew  that 
he  was  alive  and  well.  Troubled  he  was  as  to 
what  to  do  next.  Thinks  he  :  "I'd  better  get 
straight  along  to  hell,  and  let  the  devils  throw 
me  into  the  boiling  pitch,  and  stew  me  until 
all  my  sins  are  stewed  out  of  me." 

So  he  said  good-bye  to  everybody,  took  his 
sack  in  his  hands  and  set  off  to  hell  by  the  best 
road  he  could  find. 

Well,  he  walked  on  and  on,  over  hill  and 
valley  and  through  the  deep  forest,  until  he 
came  at  last  to  the  kingdom  of  the  unclean. 
There  were  the  walls  of  hell  and  the  gates  of 
hell,  and  as  he  looked  he  saw  that  sentinels 
were  standing  at  every  gate. 

As  soon  as  he  came  near  a  gate  the  devil 
doing  sentry  go  calls  out : 

"  Who  goes  there  ?  " 

"  A  sinful  soul  come  to  you  to  be  stewed  in 
the  boiling  pitch." 

19 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

"  And  what  is  that  you've  got  in  your  hand  ?" 

"  A  sack." 

And  the  devil  yelled  out  at  the  top  of  his 
voice  and  gave  the  alarm.  From  all  sides  the 
unclean  rushed  up  and  began  closing  every 
gate  and  window  in  hell  with  strong  bolts  and 
bars. 

And  the  soldier  walked  round  hell  outside 
the  walls,  unable  to  get  in. 

He  cried  out  to  the  Prince  of  Hell : 

"  Let  me  into  hell,  I  beg  you.  I  have  come 
to  you  to  be  tormented,  because  I  have  sinned 
before  God  and  before  man." 

"  No,"  shouted  the  Prince  of  Hell,  "  I  won't 
let  you  in.  Go  away.  Go  away,  I  tell  you.  Go 
away,  anywhere  you  like.  There's  no  place  for 
you  here." 

The  soldier  was  more  troubled  than  ever. 

"  Well,"  says  he,  "  if  you  won't  let  me  in, 
you  won't.  I'll  go  away  if  you  will  give  me  two 
hundred  sinful  souls.  I  will  take  them  to  God, 
and  perhaps,  when  he  sees  them,  he  will  for- 
give me  and  let  me  into  heaven." 

"  I'll  throw  in  another  fifty,"  says  the 
Prince  of  Hell,  "  if  only  you'll  get  away  from 
here." 

And  he  told  the  lesser  devils  to  count  out 
two  hundred  and  fifty  sinful  souls  and  to  let 
them  out  quickly  at  one  of  the  back  doors  of 
hell,  while  he  held  the  soldier  in  talk,  so  that 
the  soldier  should  not  slip  in  while  the  sinful 
souls  were  going  out. 

It  was  done,  and  the  soldier  set  off  for  heaven 
with  two  hundred  and  fifty  sinful  souls  behind 

20 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

him,  marching  in  column  of  route,  as  the 
soldier  made  them  for  the  sake  of  order  and 
decency. 

Well,  they  marched  on  and  on,  and  in  the 
end  they  came  to  heaven,  and  stopped  before 
the  very  gates  of  Paradise. 

And  the  holy  apostles,  standing  in  the  gate- 
way of  Paradise,  said  :  "  Who  are  you  ?  " 

"  I  am  the  soldier  who  hung  Death  in  a  sack, 
and  I  have  brought  two  hundred  and  fifty 
sinful  souls  from  hell  in  hope  that  God  will 
pardon  my  sins  and  let  me  into  Paradise." 

And  the  apostles  went  to  the  Lord,  and 
told  him  that  the  soldier  had  come,  and 
brought  with  him  two  hundred  and  fifty  sinful 
souls. 

And  God  said  :  "  Let  in  the  sinful  souls, 
but  do  not  let  in  the  soldier." 

The  apostles  went  back  to  the  gateway,  and 
opened  the  gates  and  told  the  souls  they  might 
come  in.  But  when  the  soldier  tried  to  march 
in  at  the  head  of  his  company  they  stopped 
him,  and  said  :  "  No,  soldier  !  There's  no 
place  for  you  here." 

So  the  soldier  took  one  of  the  sinful  souls 
aside  and  gave  that  soul  his  sack,  and  told  him  : 
"  As  soon  as  you  are  through  the  gates  of 
Paradise,  open  the  sack  and  shout  out  "  Into 
the  sack,  soldier  !  "  You  will  do  this  because  I 
brought  you  here  from  hell." 

And  the  sinful  soul  promised  to  do  this  for 
the  soldier. 

But  when  that  sinful  soul  went  through  the 
gates  into  Paradise,  for  very  joy  it  forgot  about 


THE  SOLDIER  AND  DEATH 

the  soldier,  and  threw  away  the  sack  some- 
where in  Paradise,  where  it  may  be  lying  to 
this  day. 

And  so  the  soldier,  after  waiting  a  long  time, 
went  slowly  back  to  earth.  Death  would  not 
take  him.  There  was  no  place  for  him  in  Para- 
dise and  no  place  for  him  in  Hell.  For  all  I 
know  he  may  be  living  yet. 


Printed  for  :the  Author  at  The 

Westminster  Press,  London 

W.    and    published    by 

John  G.  Wilson  at 

7  7  Queen  Street 

Cheapside 

E.C. 


University  of  California 

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405  Hilgard  Avenue,  Los  Angeles,  CA  90024-1388 

Return  this  material  to  the  library 

from  which  it  was  borrowed. 


NON-RENEWABLE 

JUN  151394 
9UE  2  WKS  FROM  DUE  RECEIVED 

CO  UMIW 


PAMPHLET    BINDER 

— -^—  Syracuse,   N.    Y. 
^^^   Stockton,    Calif. 


PR 

6035 

Rl?s 
1920 


Universi 
South 
Libr